Hartley hit with lengthy ban
PA Sport
April 24, 2007

England World Cup prospect Dylan Hartley's career is in ruins after he received a 26-week suspension for gouging.

The Northampton hooker has been banned from rugby until October 17 this year - three days before the World Cup final in Paris.

A Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel found him guilty of illegally making contact with the eye or eye areas of Wasps back-row forwards James Haskell and Jonny O'Connor during Saints' 35-29 Guinness Premiership defeat at Adams Park nine days ago.

Hartley, 21, was reported by independent citing officer Alan Mansell, although he was found not guilty of an identical charge in relation to a third Wasps player, England star Joe Worsley.

In addition to missing Saints' Premiership relegation clash against London Irish on Saturday, he must also sit out England's two-Test South Africa tour in May and June, three World Cup warm-up games during August and the Webb Ellis Trophy defence during the autumn.

Uncapped Hartley, who was born in New Zealand but qualifies for England on residency grounds, was tipped to put pre-World Cup pressure on rival England hookers George Chuter and Lee Mears.

But he is now reeling from what is thought to be the longest suspension dished out to a top-flight England player since Bath prop Kevin Yates was found guilty of ear-biting in 1998.

RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett, who chaired Hartley's hearing, said: ``Contact with an opponent's eyes is a serious offence because of the vulnerability of the area and risk of permanent injury.

``It is often the result of an insidious act and is one of the most abhorred by rugby players.

``Serious offences such as these - colloquially known as gouging - carry substantial punishment to protect players, deter others and remove culprits from the game to ensure they learn the appropriate lesson.

``The offence against Haskell was at the top end entry point which carries a sanction of between 24 weeks and three years.

``We believe the appropriate entry point for this was 30 weeks, which we reduced to 26 after taking into account his good character, youth and inexperience.

``We upheld the citing for the offence against O'Connor, but adjudged that no further penalty was necessary.''

Northampton have until 5pm on Wednesday to lodge an appeal.

Saints chief executive Allan Robson said: ``We are obviously disappointed that Dylan has received this suspension in a crucial week for the club.

``While we accept the findings of the panel, we will of course look at every option available to us.''

Here, PA Sport provides a rundown of some of world rugby's heftiest suspensions:

Trevor Brennan - LIFE

The former Ireland forward was hit with the ultimate suspension after punching a supporter during Toulouse's fractious Heineken Cup match against Ulster in January 2007. Brennan's appeal will be heard on June 1.

Wendell Sailor - TWO YEARS

The Australian dual international was banned in July last year after testing positive for cocaine.

Johan Le Roux - 19 MONTHS

The former South Africa prop bit off a chunk of Sean Fitzpatrick's ear during a Test against New Zealand in July 1994.

Richard Nones - TWO YEARS

The Colomiers prop was banned for gouging Pontypridd opposite number Sven Cronk during a Heineken Cup match in November 1999.

Kevin Yates - SIX MONTHS

Yates was found guilty of biting London Scottish forward Simon Fenn in a Tetley Bitter Cup match on January 10, 1998. Now plays for Saracens.

Dylan Hartley - 26 WEEKS

Found to have made contact with the eye area of Wasps flanker Jonny O'Connor and the eye of James Haskell in a Guinness Premiership match.

Epi Taioni - 18 WEEKS

The versatile Tongan international was banned in February 2006 for biting Ireland forward Denis Leamy during a Heineken Cup appearance for Sale against Munster.

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